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College Football: A Canadian Tradition Like None Other? Big Ten in the CFL

Remembering some B1G guys now north of the border.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers v Hamilton Tiger-Cats Photo by John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images

Good morning! (Unless it’s afternoon. Then, still, good morning!)

As is tradition at Off Tackle Empire, the Fourth of July week marks AMERICA WEEK! In the past, this has been a week for apple pie, grilling techniques, and waxing nostalgic on a memory of Main Street that never really existed quite like you think it did.

As such, I’d like to talk to you about Canadian football, in honor of the first country America ever failed to invade.

You see, regardless of what you heard about a soccer game that “invented college football” in 1869, Canada played an integral role in helping invent college football in 1874, when the McGill [team name not found] traveled to Boston—

—and lost, 3-0, to the Harvard Crimson.

But the Crimson men, preferring the Canadian rules of kicking, chasing, and running with the ball (without “being chased” as a prerequisite for running) in a style more rugby than soccer, gravitated toward that style in spite of peers Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Rutgers playing the soccer-style game of the time. They played Yale in a Canadian-esque game in 1875, convinced Princeton and Columbia to join in by 1879, and then modestly deferred to Walter Camp in 1880 as the Yale man introduced the snap and reduced team sizes to 11.

Thus, American football. Happy Fourth of July!

The lads from Montreal, though, returned home, where football followed a slightly different course north of the border. In Canada a robust rugby union scene by 1876 included four precursors to modern-day Canadian Football League teams—the Hamilton Football Club, Montreal Football Club, Toronto Argonaut Football Club, and Ottawa Football Club (though only Toronto’s has been continually in existence).

That’s led to differences in American and Canadian football—players in motion, running toward the line of scrimmage before snaps, having just three chances to make 10 yards, the wider and longer fields, and scoring “singles” or “rouges” (when a non-PAT, kicked ball isn’t advanced out of the endzone, including if it goes out-of-bounds on anything other than a kickoff). Those requirements lead to hilarious situations like this:

It’s the best.

If you’re an old-timer around these parts, you’re thinking “MNW, haven’t you written about this before?” You’re right! Twice, in fact! But in the era of SEO and clicks and enshittification, might I retort: “Meh?”

Since no one watched the XFL and who knows if the USFL is still going, let’s turn to the closest thing to until Week 0 of college football kicks off on August 26: CANADA.

The Canadian Football League shifted its U.S. broadcast partners for 2023, moving from ESPN to CBS Sports Network in what I can only assume was part of ESPN shedding everything that’s not the SEC and Shoutin’ Buddies with Stephen A. Most of those CFL games will be on the CBS Sports Network that you can get over most streaming and cable services, though the non-marquee games will be on CFL+, a free online stream that only requires an email address to view. Using the Canadian feed, you get good commentary in hilarious accents. What’s not to love?

There’s a schedule up above or in the sidebar if you’d like to watch the CFL this week. Feel free to use this as your open thread if you’d like!

To help with SEO—I mean, inform you of the very latest you need to know in Big Ten news—here’s the latest list of in Big Ten players in the CFL:

Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Hugh Thornton (OL, Calgary^)

Indiana Hoosiers

  • Shaun Shivers (RB, BC*)

Iowa Hawkeyes

  • James Butler (RB, Hamilton)
  • Tevaun Smith (WR, Ottawa^)

Maryland Terrapins

  • Marcus Lewis (DB, Edmonton)
  • Carlos Carriere (WR, Hamilton*)
  • Tayon Fleet-Davis (RB, Hamilton*)
  • Javon Leake (RB, Toronto)

Michigan Wolverines

  • Pea Shatterson (QB, Saskatchewan)
  • Jeremy Clark (DB, Saskatchewan^)

Michigan State Spartans

Minnesota Gophers

  • Shannon Brooks (RB, Edmonton)
  • Rodney Smith (RB, Saskatchewan^)
  • Drew Wolitarsky (WR, Winnipeg)
  • Simoni Lawrence (LB, Hamilton)

Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • David Knevel (OL, BC)
  • Dedrick Mills (RB, Calgary)
  • Deontai Williams (DB, Saskatchewan)
  • Jermarcus Hardrick (OL, Winnipeg)
  • Ciante Evans (DB, Montreal^)

Northwestern Wildcats

Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Damon Webb (RB, Ottawa)
  • Austin Mack (WR, Montreal)

Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Tommy Stevens (QB, Calgary)

Purdue Boilermakers

  • Antonio Mitchell II (DB, Edmonton*)

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Patrice Rene (DB, BC)
  • Adam Korsak (P, Saskatchewan)
  • Carlton Agudosi (WR, Winnipeg)
  • Janarion Grant (WR/KR/PR, Winnipeg)

Shoutout here to Janarion Grant, who’s been doing big things for my Blue Bombers:

Wisconsin Badgers

  • Natrell Jamerson (DB, Calgary)

*=practice squad
^=injured list

It’s worth noting, before I depart, that each of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Wisconsin-La Crosse have one player in the CFL, more than Northwestern.

Feel free to talk about Canadian football or Australian Rules football or whatever else you’ve been watching this summer that’s a football-like product. Have a good Fourth.